—Friday, March 9, 2012—
I hadn’t seen Billie since the winter of 2007 and I missed her more than I probably realized, burning through my days in NYC while she went about her own life in sunny LA. All it took to close that nearly 3,000 mile gap was several hundred dollars, a vacation day and a boarding pass. I was LA bound for a weekend of fun in the sun.
Once upon a time, Billie and I shared the same group of collegiate friends and we’d been bound specifically by improv. She was the first president of my college’s student led improv club, which was a role I took over the year after she graduated. We performed together and we coached together during our time at school. We were both insanely enthusiastic about improv at Fairfield and we both supported the shit out of each other.
She was also one of the most likable people in our entire group of friends. In fact, I couldn’t think of anyone who didn’t like Billie.
Mostly for those reasons, but also because she always had a great body and winning smile, I had developed a thing for Billie during the second semester of my Junior year, which was her last semester at college. If it hadn’t been for the recent end of my five-year high school relationship and the fact that Billie and I worked together, I might have made a move all those years ago.
That was why I was very nervous to ask her out on a date. There was a lot of build up in my own mind to that moment. Also, I already knew that I’d be staying with her in LA and I didn’t want her to think I had unsavory motives. I’d have been staying with her regardless of the date or my prior attraction.
Fortunately, Billie said yes when I asked her. Not just yes, but an enthusiastic yes. I was stoked and hoping for the best. My flight to LA gave me plenty of time to psych myself out though. I worried about how she would receive me and what it would be like to see her again. I also wondered about the ramifications of taking her on a date.
My flight into LAX was pleasant and uneventful and I picked up my rental car with no problem. I spent a few hours checking out Santa Monica, while Billie finished up her day at work, and then made my way to her place in West LA. I had stretched my legs, eaten some Mexican food, purchased a pair of sunglasses and seen the Pacific Ocean all before I met up with her late that afternoon.
I waited for Billie outside of her building and stood with excitement when I heard her car pull up. She was on the phone another old college friend and I opened the gate for her. A smile crept across her face as she hugged me with a silent hello. Once she was off the phone, she greeted me properly and we hugged again. We were both very happy to see each other and it was a very nice reunion.
Up in her apartment, we both decompressed a bit and made small talk about our days. She proposed some ideas of what to do in LA that night, since I’d never been there and she had grown up in the City of Angels, but then I told her that I had already made reservations for a show.
I had been stressing all week about planning a date in a city I didn’t know and specifically about being on someone else’s turf. Luckily, my always awesome roommate Pat happened to message me one day that week to tell me about the NerdMelt Showroom, saying I should check it out while in LA. It was a nerd-centric performance space in Hollywood and it had an interesting show going up that Friday, so I bought tickets. I wanted to impress Billie by showing her something unique in her hometown and it seemed like perhaps I might succeed. It was a good feeling.
The show was not until 8 p.m. though, so we had plenty of time to have dinner and decide if anything else piqued our interest. I offered to drive, since it was something I did so rarely in NYC, and Billie agreed to navigate. She suggested that we try to grab a bite to eat at Umami Burger in Hollywood, which was actually a place that one of my co-workers had told me to check out while in LA. Double win.
We hopped in the car and drove down Santa Monica Boulevard, through Century City and Beverly Hills and then down Sunset Boulevard into Hollywood. I got to see the Hollywood sign, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the Walk of Fame and the Dolby Theatre, where the Academy Awards were held each year. The latter looked essentially like a shopping mall, but I guess that’s because it was in a shopping mall. That seemed very “LA” to me. It was cool to see all that stuff, but it didn’t have any particular significance to me, so seeing it from the driver’s seat of a Chevy Impala was the perfect way to go about it.
The real landmarks for me were staples of the LA improv scene, iO West and UCBT-LA. Those were what I wanted to see and I had already made reservations for a couple shows at UCB that Sunday. Billie and I spent a lot of that ride talking about improv. We talked about our teams, our classes and our takes on the varying philosophies which the prominent improv theaters professed. UCB was great, but other theaters were great too. We couldn’t understand why devotees of the smaller theaters (in NYC, at least) hated on UCB and we couldn’t understand why UCB fans dissed the smaller theaters. Who didn’t love performing for enthusiastic crowds, like those at packed UCB shows? Who didn’t love being able to get on stage after only a year or two, like at the Westside Comedy Theater? It was all good stuff and I was happy to find that Billie and I saw eye to eye on those things. I didn’t get a lot of compromise in NYC.
We also talked about the varying demographics between theaters, like professional actors versus comedians versus hobbyists. Our improv talk could have gone on all night, and though there were long pauses in-between, it more or less did, popping up in many of our conversations.
As we turned down the block on which Umami Burger was situated, Billie told me to keep my eyes out for a parking spot. This would likely be a challenge, she warned. Lucky for us though, we found a spot right outside of Umami. It was awesome. We threw some quarters in the meter and went inside.
There didn’t seem to be much of a wait, but the hostess asked for my name and number, saying that they’d text us when a table opened up. I looked at the dining room and saw a couple open tables, so I thought it was pretty odd, but I just had to trust them. Billie and I walked out to the sidewalk, intending to kill some time wandering around the block, when the hostess immediately chased after us and I received a text message from their reservation system. Our table was ready, she told us, and we laughed at how silly their process was.
Over burgers, which took a while to come out, Billie and I talked a lot about OHD and dating in general. She had tried online dating, with Match.com, but it did not work well for her. Something about interacting with people online and then going out with them just wasn’t her style. This seemed about right, considering I’d never known Billie to be hugely interested in social media or instant messaging. She always struck me as an in-person kind of person.
The manager actually brought over a platter of pickles to us because our burger order hadn’t gone into the system right away, hence the delay. They were lucky their food was good, because the Hollywood Umami Burger was looking a bit disorganized that night.
Billie and I touched on different attitudes in dating and how I thought that all one needed was a good attitude to have a good date. I often found myself thinking, This is just a new person that I want to get to know! or in this case, This is someone I’ve known for seven years but maybe there’s something surprising about them. That attitude made me curious about nearly every date and made them all worth my time. I thought that if more people approached dates with a sincere curiosity, they’d be disappointed less often.
One of the things that seemed to get in the way of people during dates was an aversion to telling the truth. It wasn’t so much that people lied, but they often didn’t state their full opinions or give full details about their lives, as they feared such details might push others away. With our friends, Billie and I agreed, we were more willing to be honest and allowed for more disagreement, presumably because the relationship wasn’t in question. This was my opportunity — I wanted to tell Billie that I’d once had a thing for her and that it was exciting to finally be out with her — but I didn’t take the chance because I worried I could be changing the relationship. The relationship that we didn’t need to question, the one in which honesty was appreciated, was strictly a friendship. I was scared of blurring those lines and losing the rapport we had established over the years.
So, rather than admit my attraction to her, I told Billie about how OHD made me feel like a bit of an outsider within our group of friends. Many of them had been in relationships or were perpetually single (sans dating exploits), so it was hard for them to relate to the newly redesigned, constantly-dating version of myself when they’d come to know me largely as a loyal boyfriend. The entire circumstance, where it seemed like many of my Fairfield friends disapproved of OHD, was another reason I had been afraid to ask Billie out, and I let her know that. She seemed to understand my concern and assured me that, as someone who’d been single in LA for several years, she didn’t disapprove of my desire to explore the dating world.
The talk on dating eventually led back around to improv as we discussed awkward men in the improv world trying to talk to women. Though Billie might have liked a man who shared a passion for improv, few of them seemed capable of properly asking women out and those that did were often either arrogant or clueless. This led us further around to Billie’s own world of dating and she told me that she had been out with this one guy a few times recently, maybe over the previous two weeks. Interesting, I thought. I wondered what that meant for my chances that night.
Since Billie knew I was going on another date the next day, it probably meant very little. Though she had agreed to go out with me, I don’t think she had any intention of blurring the lines between friendship and romance.
The burgers were great and Billie offered to treat me, since she knew how many dates I was paying for and because I had already bought the tickets for the show later. That made sense to me and I left Billie to deal with the check as I ran out to fill the meter one last time, since we were going to just barely exceed our time limit. After both of us used the bathroom, we took off in search of NerdMelt.
It was a very quick trip to the venue and again, I had no trouble locating a parking spot and Billie couldn’t believe that we had landed such a good spot on a Friday night, right across the street from NerdMelt. Maybe I had brought some East Coast luck with me. The parking meter was broken which meant either parking was free or I would get a ticket, but I took the spot anyway and crossed my fingers. The parking limits on that street were interesting. The signs noted a ten hour parking limit from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. One could park there for all but three hours of the restricted period. It was so weird to me, and plus, I had never seen a ten hour limit. It was very generous.
The NerdMelt Showroom was in the back of LA comic book institution Meltdown Comics and as we approached the front door, it hardly looked like there was a show happening there. Upon entering the store, we could see the Showroom entrance in the back and it was simply not crowded yet. We were only about ten minutes early, so I figured it must not be a big show. All I really knew of NerdMelt was that it was where the insanely popular Nerdist podcast was recorded and that it was partially run by Chief Nerd Officer Chris Hardwick.
The show we were there to see was called I Wish My Life Was An RPG and, after checking in with the box office, we entered the small back room theater to grab seats. Very soon thereafter, a young woman with a microphone, accompanied by a cameraman, came over to interview us for a bit. We were asked how we had heard about the show, what we expected of it and if we were geeks. Billie and I answered her questions politely and it felt a little awkward to be put on the spot like that, especially since so few other people were there at the time. The interviewer thanked us, huddled with her cameraman and then came back to ask us one more question.
Once they’d left us alone, we watched them approach others in the space. I commented to Billie that nothing was more ripe for discomfort than nerds interviewing nerds about nerdy things on camera, which could make anyone feel insecure. It was a socially awkward stew — awkward questions mixed with awkward answers from awkward people. Great television, I am sure.
Soon enough, the space filled with audience members and two hosts from CCC (Chocolate Covered Cosplay) introduced the show and the first act. I suppose the first act would have been described simply as cosplay performance, since he didn’t seem to do anything particularly original. A cross-dressed man went up and lip-synced a couple songs, which I think were by Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, maybe. It was kind of weird, because I didn’t totally understand the point of it, but I felt like, Okay. I’ll watch this, I guess.
Next up was comic Andre Meadows, aka Black Nerd, who did a nice long set mostly about being black and being a nerd. He spoke directly to a theme which was present throughout the entire show, which was the outcasting of nerds in black culture. He was both heartfelt and very funny. I enjoyed his set a lot and I was happy for the change of pace from the more abstract first act.
After Black Nerd, it was time for the main event. I Wish My LIfe Was An RPG was a one-woman show written and performed by Ashphord Jacoway and was all about being a black female nerd and the challenges presented by that lifestyle. It was humorous, personal and socially conscious at the same time. Jacoway played a number of different characters and touched on a couple disparate themes that ran throughout her life. Overall, it was entertaining, but I thought it could have used stronger connections between its various points. She was cute too. I would have dated her. Obviously.
Afterward, there was an open dialogue with the audience, similar to a talk back, about the piece. “So does anyone have any thoughts on that?” a member off CCC asked, “White people can answer too.” That line got a good laugh. We collectively talked about being black and nerdy and what that meant for young people who identified with both cultures. They elaborated on perhaps why black culture didn’t like or accept nerd culture, or even academia, and what could be done about it.
As the ever-progressive white man in the crowd, I of course felt the need to chime in. I said something about the portrayal of successful blacks in the media, that they were fairly limited to roles within the entertainment world, and I repeated the main stance of an article I’d read (Which I cannot find to reference) which proposed that the entire African-American community would be better off if the NBA didn’t exist. Basically, I was asking the panel of performers their opinions on this observation and proposal and my commentary managed not to offend anyone, which was a success. Some of the talk back was very tangental, I think because the audience felt awkward addressing such serious issues head on, though it was all quite interesting, hearing various stories and opinions on the matter.
It was still pretty early once the show was over, so we decided to grab a drink somewhere and Billie suggested a place called Bar*Food which was over closer to her place and supposedly had a good beer selection. On our drive there, we talked about the show, the social issues it had brought forward and other social concerns that it raised in us. Billie told me about the Catholic school where she worked and how many of her experiences with social institutions and inclusion/exclusion were framed in that context. One thing she talked about was parents freaking out about the potentially sexual nature of a school dance, which Billie refuted with, “Where would you rather have your daughter get her first kiss?? This is a church social!” We drove through Sunset Strip, which was pretty cool because some of the biggest stand up clubs in the country were located there, like the Laugh Factory and The Comedy Store.
Once at Bar*Food, we each got a beer and found a comfortable bench to sit on. We talked more about improv while we drank and also talked about some of our friends, like what they were up to those days. We lamented on our current jobs and discussed what we maybe wanted to be doing which for me was more creative pursuits while for Billie, she was looking at graduate schools to pursue an MBA in non-profit administration.
She had described Bar*Food as a beer bar, but I respectfully told her that it was pretty weak by New York standards. It seemed to make sense though, that LA hadn’t grasped a hold of the craft beer movement quite as strongly as NYC. They were definitely different markets.
Having not hung out with Billie in so long, it was nice to remember how easy it was to talk to her. It was heartwarming how enthusiastic she was about improv and to be reminded of that shared passion. My memories of her had not been arbitrarily enhanced over time — she was just as great as those fond moments in my head.
I could see clearly, sitting with her on that bench, why I’d had a thing for her years earlier. It was a bit sad that we were so far from each other, partially in a romantic sense, but mostly in terms of friendship. I would have loved to be in an improv world inhabited by Billie. It would have done my heart a lot of good.
After one round, we drove home, past her school’s rival “rich kid” high school, and found a spot not far from her apartment. The parking and dating gods were both looking out for me.
We lingered for a bit in her living rom, talking to each other, but we were both really tired. I’d only had a few hours of sleep the night prior and I had been awake for close to 22 hours, so I was fine with turning in a bit early.
Billie hugged me goodnight and we thanked each other for the fun night. It had been a really good time and I admitted to myself that I had likely taken the date part of our evening more seriously than Billie. Maybe she’d been under the impression that it was a Platonic “friend date” rather than a date with a friend. It had been labeled “College Friend Date” after all. Maybe she just wasn’t into me in that way. Maybe she didn’t want to cross any lines because I was staying with her for the weekend. Maybe she was waiting for me to make the move. Maybe this. Maybe that.
I could have maybe’d this one to death but it wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere. Recognizing that I had a good friend in Billie was all I really needed to feel satisfied with our night.
Though I doubted I would ever have the chance to kiss her again, or the fortitude for that matter, I hoped I was wrong. Maybe in another four years or so.